Listening to music while we commute, the chatter of friends, and the general ambiance of a crowded office are all pretty mundane detail for many of us. Yet, trying to come to terms with our world of sound slowly turning silent, is something completely unfathomable altogether.
Meet Edmund Koh, who was only formally diagnosed with hearing impairment at the age of 17, thanks to the pre-enlistment medical checkup for Singapore’s National Service (well thanks, NS!). Although he faced difficulties in hearing his teachers back in his old school days, he coped by choosing seats closer to the front of the classroom – pretty much not thinking too much about it till then.
His mum immediately brought him to see the audiologist that his dad had been visiting. Yes, Edmund’s dad already had the impairment, and now that his mum knew he had it too, she did not want him to be or feel less than equal with his peers. That was the moment he finally got his first hearing aids made!
“Till date, I’m still surprised by my own emotions towards this whole episode. Instead of feeling down or depressed from the discovery of my impairment, I was more relieved and overjoyed that I finally knew why I did not hear so well. The first time I put on hearing aids was also the when I felt like a whole new person in a whole new world of sounds I did not hear before.”
From Bane To Boon: Hearing Aids
Yet, it wasn’t enough that his hearing aids were just expensive, but they did not fit Edmund’s ears very well either, causing irritation which he never really got to overcome. Once the initial novelty wore off, wearing the hearings aids soon become a chore, causing him to stop wearing them regularly – to the point of going without them for many days in a row! He soon lost one of his hearing aids because of that and kept it secret from his parents for a long time (we can relate to that too).
Later on, in the midst of pursuing his own education, Edmund started teaching in schools as a Robotics CCA instructor.
“Being an educator, we treasure our ability to hear as it allows us to listen to and understand the children under our charge. There was an episode in my class where I had difficulty hearing a question asked by a young girl sitting in the front row of my class. Even when I had my ears at her level facing her, I still could not hear anything. I was disappointed with myself for being unable to attend to the question of a budding young learner, especially when I knew I could have mitigated that situation had I worn my hearing aids.”
It was the last straw that made him decided to be a full-time hearing aids user. Thankfully, his audiologist was able to get him a new set of hearing aids that finally fitted well, allowing him to confidently adjust to their use.
Almost 2 years ago, Edmund was introduced to Nessa Asia, who offered a fresh approach, one that was different from other traditional hearing aids companies. As he transited to independent living, the cost of owning and maintaining a pair of hearing aids was a frightening thought. Nonetheless, Nessa Asia’s team of audiologists and consultants were very patient and understanding towards him in finding the right pair of hearing aids that suited his lifestyle. It greatly eased the burden of the impairment on his shoulders and let him focus on starting his own family much better.
Coping With The Impairment
Edmund currently works at Nullspace Robotics, a robotics training company. His work involves maintaining a close relationship with educational institutions to understand students’ needs better, including being able to easily understand the concerns of the children he interacts with. Using hearing aids has made it easier for him to maintain a healthy channel of communication with those schools, as well as with the children under his charge to address their needs better. This allows him to more effectively train and impart technical skills to make his students future-ready.
“Relationships with my loved ones have also improved. I no longer seem to “ignore” them like I used to and I can confidently participate in meaningful conversations with them without fear of being off-point in my responses. With hearing aids, I will also not miss out on their needs, allowing me to attend to them when I can.”
Furthermore, having a father who had led a successful life despite his hearing impairment, helped Edmund tremendously in coming to terms with his own hearing loss. He showed that despite the condition, he was no less capable than his peers and had an equally fulfilling life.
Of course, Edmund had his uncertainties, on what his impairment was and how it would affect his life too. He started researching about his condition online and consulted with an ENT doctor and audiologists. The knowledge he gained allowed him to better explain his situation to anyone he interacted with, giving them the chance to have a better understanding of his hearing impairment and in return, interact with them comfortably.
However, it didn’t come without some tribulations too. There were many occasions where Edmund would have to ask the people he talked to repeat their sentences – sometimes a little too often – that they would express irritation. It is only after sharing his disability with them that they become more understanding.
While not exactly prejudices, these were situations he’d face from the lack of initial understanding or through another common experience: in which some would innocently subject Edmund to “tests of hearing difficulty”. Regardless, Edmund remained unphased thanks to the support he gets from his inner circle.
“I am glad to be blessed with family, friends, and colleagues who understand my situation without questioning my ability to be among them. This had allowed me to lead a fulfilling life with experiences that I can only be thankful for.”
Life Lessons & Moving Forward
Edmund adamantly puts forward: that being hearing impaired should not make you afraid of how others might view you, and that you should be positive about yourself!
“If you can’t hear, go nearer or ask for a repeat. It is more important to have a clear understanding of what is communicated than to maintain our image. We are as normal as we see ourselves to be. Hearing impairment doesn’t make us any less of a person and should not be an excuse preventing us from pursuing our dreams and passion.”
If you suspect you’re hearing impaired or are going through your own hearing loss, he suggests looking up your condition online. While not all online sources are accurate, read widely and be critical of what you read. Through comparing the points proposed by various authors and organisations, he hopes it will help you gain a more insightful understanding of the condition.
Thereafter, consult an ENT doctor or an audiologist for a test upon suspicion of hearing impairment. Remember: there is no harm in getting your ears checked, especially since these checks are widely available! Go the extra mile and try to include regular hearing tests as part of your overall health regimen too!
Cover Photo courtesy of Gavin Whitner.